Women in Cyber: Why there's never been a better time to kick-start your career

cyber security

Times change pretty fast in cybersecurity.

Blink and you’re likely to miss something very important. Even as recently as five years ago we didn’t have cloud configuration errors, IoT botnets, container threats or targeted ransomware. That’s a source of anxiety for some people, but it can also be one of the most rewarding and exciting aspects of working in the industry. There’s no time for coasting — you need to be continually looking at the cutting-edge, and how it’s likely to impact your customers or users in the future.

However, one thing that has taken much longer to change in the industry has been greater diversity in the workplace. Fortunately that is now changing, but women are still woefully under-represented; we comprise only around a quarter (24 per cent) of all IT security professionals globally, according to some estimates.

Getting started

When I started out almost over 20 years ago even the idea of taking a degree course in a technology-related subject was a novelty. Everything was business studies and there were only a small handful of places in the whole country that offered anything to do with information security. I chose the computer science and management undergraduate course at Royal Holloway and followed that in 2002 with an MSc in information security there. I’m glad to say I made the right bet that cybersecurity was going to be a pretty big deal.

Yet the reality is that you can only get so far with a degree in something as vocational as cybersecurity. The real value comes from real-world experience: getting out there and getting your hands dirty. In fact, there may be many women who may not have studied technology before, but have the right skill sets to be successful in this industry. Yes, most roles require a certain amount of technical aptitude. But it’s also about communication, problem solving, attention to detail, and a tireless passion for learning.

That’s why it’s frustrating to see many employers effectively tying one hand behind their backs by relying on outdated and excessively rigorous requirements for job-seekers. Your best candidates might not even have studied cyber at university, or have a mind-boggling array of accreditations and acronyms on their CVs.

At Trend Micro we’re passionate about closing the gender gap in cybersecurity. And we practice what we preach internally, by hiring not based on previous experience, but also on potential and aptitude. Hopefully more employers get on board by doing the same, especially as industry skills shortages continue to grow. It’s been proven time and again that greater diversity and equality in the workplace not only makes for a more loyal, productive and content workforce, but in cybersecurity brings a diversity of viewpoints together, which can improve problem solving.

Focus on what matters

So how can budding female cybersecurity professionals realise their dreams? I went down the helpdesk route, and then got a role in the network and security team. But it doesn’t have to be this way for you. It’s about finding a niche — something you’re good at, and enjoy —and working hard on excelling in this field. It may be in product sales, or you may find your talent lies with coding. Find an area, stick at it and gain the experience you need.

Some technical experience is necessary, of course, but so are people management skills, curiosity and adaptability — and these things are harder to learn.

The good news is that, while the industry is still pretty male dominated, there’s a large and growing female community out there, and plenty of networking events and support to help you. You’ll find that geeks are by and large lovely people.

It’s all about having the confidence in your own abilities, and understanding that while you may not see any female faces at your place of work, you’re certainly not alone. Information security can be a fantastic and extremely rewarding career. It’s also one which, amidst all the turbulence we’re currently experiencing in the UK, is still absolutely vital. A 100 per cent employment rate? You can’t say that about many professions.

Kiran KokharAbout the author:

Kiran is a cybersecurity engineer at Trend Micro, having recently joined the company in March this year. She has a wealth of knowledge under her belt and having worked both vendor- and client-side, Kiran has a deep understanding of the challenges of cybersecurity. She believes that cybersecurity should be built into the fabric of organisations, so that it becomes the responsibility of all departments, not just of IT. She’s passionate about the industry and enjoys working with clients to ensure that they can better equip themselves for the ever-changing threat landscape they face.

If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTechWomen has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here.